Friday, March 14, 2008

Boys Will Be Boys

Tarja Halonen
Originally uploaded by Explo
Yesterday I stumbled into the YouTube channel of the European Union where one of the latest entries was a video from an EU-hosted conference for leading women. Next to Condoleezza Rice and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner stood the Finnish President Tarja Halonen.

Halonen's election has had a positive impact on women in leading position in Finnish politics. I would claim to see a link between having a woman as a president since 2000 and finally in 2007 having a Cabinet where the majority of members are women. This makes me proud.

However, it would be still premature to claim that Finland has reached equality. We still need a lot of work when it comes to attitudes. I remember from my student politician years a number of situations where I felt that I got special attention and was taken more seriously because I was a man. I remember a stakeholder meeting/dinner which included sauna. As all the decisionmakers from the stakeholder were middle-aged men, all the women in our Board and Secretariat were instantly excluded from the intimate in-depth discussions which continued in the warmth of the sauna. That experience made me turn against mixing work and sauna (equals breaking a tradition in Finland). Real boys don't need old boys' clubs.

Recently an employee survey in the Finnish Parliament showed widespread sexual harrassment and dirty talk by the older male MPs towards the young female staff. This week's big scandal in Finland has been Minister for Foreing Affairs Kanerva's SMS escapade with an erotic dancer half his age. Finally yesterday Kanerva apologised publically and said that he showed lack of judgement.

I was highly pleased - and must confess, surprised - to hear that the youngish leader of Kanerva's party Kokoomus (National Coalition) condemned Kanerva's "sense of humour" so strongly. Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen belongs to the generation that understands the harm of this kind of actions to his party's image. The last year's have made Kokoomus the party of educated nurses, teachers and young liberals and this kind of action by Kanerva drives easily a lot of these people to the Greens.

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